President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a surprise move during his latest address to the nation on the Covid-19 pandemic on Wednesday night, has announced that retail sales of alcohol will be allowed on weekends and that international travel to South Africa will be eased further.
The move represents a further “opening up” of the country’s battered economy and will no doubt be hailed by the tourism, hospitality and grocery retail industries, which have voiced increasing unhappiness with the restrictions.
No date for the changes (still under lockdown alert Level 1) were mentioned by the president, but further details are likely to be revealed later this week by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
“As we transition to a new phase in our response, the only way forward is a rapid and sustained economic recovery,” said Ramaphosa.
“We are therefore working to enable all parts of the economy to return to full operation as quickly and as safely as possible.
“We are amending the alert Level 1 regulations to restore the normal trading hours for the sale of alcohol at retail outlets. We are also opening up international travel to all countries subject to the necessary health protocols and the presentation of a negative Covid-19 certificate,” he added.
No more travel ‘red list’
The easing of pandemic-related international travel rules to South Africa effectively means that government is abolishing its so-called “red list” of Covid-19 hotspot countries. Under that rule, leisure travel from countries on the list was still not allowed.
Ramaphosa said South Africa would limit the spread of Covid-19 infection through importation using rapid tests and strict monitoring.
“We expect that these measures will greatly assist businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors,” he added.
“We are focusing relentlessly on the implementation of our [economic recovery] plan, pursuing a few priorities with the highest impact and ensuring that we deliver on these.”
The danger isn’t over
While the relaxation of Covid-19 trade and travel restrictions under Level 1 will be welcomed by organised business and tourism bodies, the move is also likely to face some opposition from South Africans and civil organisations that believe it may lead to a spike in Covid-19 infections.
During his address, Ramaphosa warned about citizens not obeying Covid-19 health protocols, such as wearing masks and social distancing, saying that he has seen posts on social media of huge parties and other events being held which could serve as “super spreaders” of the virus.
“We must remember that every additional person we come into contact with increases the chances of transmission. We should avoid large gatherings. We should rather meet in small groups. If we must go out, we should limit contact with others,” he said
“I have been increasingly getting concerned and alarmed by what I have been seeing on social media and even on television where people are holding big parties, gatherings and social events as though the virus does not exist,” he added.
“I have been seeing images of indoor venues crowded with people who are not wearing masks and with no evidence of social distancing. These are super-spreader events that must be avoided because this is dangerous behaviour.”